We Need To Recognize That Christian Privilege Does Exist

RAMONA PATEL is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Christians Do Have Unseen Benefits In America, But Understanding Is Only The Start

We have all thought at times that someone else has gotten an advantage based on who they are. A celebrity who gets away with no jail time because they are famous. That person who skips the line at a club because they are pretty. The person who gets the promotion because their family is friends with the boss. The idea of people getting help based on their characteristics is not a new concept. But George Washington University has become a focal point of this expression with a workshop on “Christian privilege.”

So what is Christian privilege? The basic concept of privilege has been gaining more mainstream attention in the last decade, especially on college campuses. The term was first coined by W.E.B. DuBois in the late 1930s to talk about the different types of societally based blocks that determine the ascendance of one group of people over another. There is oppression, and there is privilege. Oppression is a direct impediment to a group. For example, denying equal rights for marriage. Privilege is the benefit a group receives for being part of that group. So the thesis of Christian privilege is that being a Christian in America gives you specific benefits other groups do not get, which create unfairness in treatment.

So is there Christian privilege in America? Absolutely. Christians may bemoan the fact they are under attack by Hollywood or because people say “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” but think about the advantages. Christians are allowed to display and practice their faith without constant fear of violence in the United States. Meanwhile, Muslims have their hijabs torn off or Sikhs are yelled at or kicked out of class for wearing their turbans. But the Christian cross can be predominately displayed. Christian holidays are routinely given days off school or time off. Christians are less likely to be criticized for their religion by a jury of their peers. Politicians commonly focus on Christian morality when deciding laws. There has always been a Christian president. A Christian politician can talk about their faith and not lose nearly close to as many votes as a Muslim politician.

The backlash against Christian privilege reveals the pervasive nature of it. On social media, critics have argued “it does not exist,” or it is “made up.” That is entirely the point of privilege. You do not see it. The fact that an individual might not realize the benefits they receive because they are Christian does not mean they do not exist. Part of the issue is privilege allows a group to avoid an experience. So if you did not grow up being attacked for expressing your faith you might not realize what a huge deal it is.

Let’s take one of the examples you hear about as an attack on Christians to prove the existence of Christian privilege. During the holiday season, you will see pundits argue about saying “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” The argument is it is a direct attack on Christians.

But think of the underlying implications. Because a company wants to acknowledge there are people of different faiths or no religious background it is deemed offensive. If you went to your favorite shop and they greeted you by saying “Good Luck To The Democratic Party” some of you would be upset because it displays only one way people think. The very fact that it seems terrible even to mention other faiths exist proves Christian privilege. We have become so used to the ubiquity of Christianity in America it is seen as the only option for public expressions of religion.

Part of the reason people are uncomfortable about privilege is it undermines a central tenet of American folklore. Part of our national identity is based on the Horatio Alger “build yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. We believe our fate is entirely intertwined with our performance and hard work. America is “where you can become anything.” So if it is revealed you got some benefits that were not earned, it can be upsetting. But that is not the point. Privilege does not mean you did not work hard. It means some people did not have the advantages you had to capitalize on. Understanding Christian privilege can be vital because understanding it allows Christians to see some of the suffering or hardships others have to go through. With the rise in Islamophobia, hate crimes, or general hostility toward non-believers understanding privilege can be an essential bridge to forming empathy for others. Which is a core concept in Christian ethics, loving thy neighbor.


Follow the Conversation on Twitter